SWEET CHIN MUSINGS: The WrestleMania XX Rewind

SWEET CHIN MUSINGS: The WrestleMania XX Rewind
By Rick Nash

As we get ready for the 30th edition of WWE WrestleMania on Sunday 6th April (along with the WWE WrestleMania 30 Party in Woolshed Baa & Grill), Rick Nash is on hand to take a light-hearted and occasionally insightful look at previous milestone editions of 'The Grand-Daddy of 'Em All', this week looking at the controversial-in-hindsight WrestleMania XX. Click here for last week's look at WrestleMania X.

  • The show opens with the Harlem Boys Choir singing 'America The Beautiful' though, interesting side-note, the WWE Network has retroactively dubbed this to Harlem Heat singing a cover of 'America F*** Yeah' from Team America. I can only imagine this is for copyright purposes.
  • Cut to an opening montage with a voiceover noting that '20 years ago one man had a vision'. He stops short of noting that that vision was almost cut short by a devastating steroid trial just seven years later. The clip ends with Vince and Shane McMahon side-by-side as Shane holds his newborn baby, a touching tribute to the power of nepotism.
  • The theme to the show is 'Where It All Begins Again'. Little did they realise at the time that it'd all have to begin again, again shortly afterwards.

JOHN CENA over US Champion, BIG SHOW

  • Some white kid in a Patrick Ewing jersey, jorts and a chain so oversized it would make Flava Flav fall down opens the show with a rap that references both Ewing and Gary Coleman, people who were ten years out of the limelight ten years ago. He was just a year away from being made the face of the company. So far things feel more 'Beginning of the End' than 'Where It All Begins Again'.
  • At ringside, Tazz notes that when Big Show is focused, he's unstoppable. And when he's not, he starts crying. The largest bipolar athlete in the world, ladies and gentlemen! How did he never reach Andre the Giant's level of superstardom again?
  • "Let's go Cena" chants reign throughout the Garden as Big Show toys with him. Let that sink in for a second before we give MSG too much credit for being the Mecca for smart fans: they may very well be the last crowd to unanimously get behind John Cena.
  • Big Show channels Sergeant Slaughter by locking on the Cobra Clutch and, also, by having a couple of high points make an overall mediocre career look more decorated than it actually was.
  • The match ends with Cena acting like he was going to hit Show with his chain, before throwing it away in favour of brass knucks behind Jim Korderas' back, into a second FU for his first ever title win. It's unnerving hearing fans be happy about him holding a belt.
  • Jonathan 'The Coach' Coachman has arrived backstage, paying dues in the hopes of one day landing a real job with ESPN. Eric Bischoff declares his assignment for the night to be to find The Undertaker. Sounds like playing a game of Where's Wally on ridiculously easy mode.
  • Backstage, Evolution cut a promo recapping their feud with Mick Foley and The Rock. Randy Orton and Batista both have more hair while Ric Flair has less crippling real estate debt. Some wrestling historians have said that the echo off the staircase where they spoke was a case of clever foreshadowing for the echo of awkward silence when Orton and Batista would (temporarily) be announced as the Mania main event a decade later.

World Tag-Team Champions, ROB VAN DAM & BOOKER-T over DUDLEY BOYZ, LA RESISTANCE and MARK JINDRAK & GARRISON CADE

  • The first of two four-way tag-team championship matches that contained a combined total of only three actual tag-teams.
  • A cool aspect of the WWE Network is that you can look out for wrestlers you completely forgot existed, like Mark Jindrak and Garrison Cade! It must suck for them that the biggest show they ever stood to collect royalty cheques for life from is one WWE has since tried to erase from existence.
  • As these matches tend to do, eventually it devolves into each guy getting their finisher in (Jindrak and Cade were excused from this portion as neither had a finisher to speak of) with Rob van Dam doing his one last and, therefore, winning.
  • On his search for Undertaker, Coach accidentally stumbles into an orgy involving Mene Gene Okerlund, Bobby 'The Brain' Heenan, Mae Young and Fabulous Moolah. Again, somehow this all culminated in a successful sports broadcasting career for him.

CHRISTIAN over CHRIS JERICHO

  • This feud came about after Jericho and Christian's $1 (Canadian) bet over who could bang Trish Stratus first. With kids in their formative years growing up influenced by such true-to-life love stories like this, it's a mystery why pro-wrestling fans aren't more renowned for their prowess with the opposite sex. Like Christian, I also landed my first serious girlfriend by making an ill-advised bet about her with a friend then clotheslining the shit out of her.
  • This match reminded me of Christian's brief tenure being known as the 'CLB' (Creepy Little Bastard). Thanks WWE Network, thanks to you one of my friends will now inherit this nickname for the foreseeable future!
  • At ringside, Lawler posits that Christian could release his own hit song, 'She Broke My Heart, So I Broke Her Jaw'. Jimmy Snuka apparently has a similar number that he busts out at karaoke bars.
  • This match was way too good for this storyline. Highlights include Jericho holding onto the Walls of Jericho despite Christian rolling out of the ring. Because he's clingy, I guess?
  • Eventually Trish Stratus ran down, only to be tossed head-first by Christian into the corner. Jericho went to check on her only to receive an accidental elbow for his troubles (women, huh?), leading to a Christian rollup for the win. Afterwards, Trish would turn on Jericho with a pair of slaps and start a ridiculously sexy heel run that helped millions of teenage wrestling fans through many a lonely night.
  • Mick Foley and The Rock did a backstage interview ahead of their 3-on-2 handicap match next. Rock is in flying form, taking time to include cameos from The Hurricane and his 'S.H.I.T.' (Superhero In Training) Rosey along with the aforementioned ladykiller Snuka and the original 'Rock' Don Muraco. He opens the door to the MSG arena to get the crowd hyped. As they say, one door opens and another one closes: this would be his final WWE match for almost 8 years.

3-on-2 Handicap Match: EVOLUTION over THE ROCK 'N' SOCK CONNECTION

  • I bet Vince McMahon sat in the back watching this match and hoping that Randy Orton and Batista would, in ten years and after multiple title reigns each, would evolve into guys capable of main eventing a money WrestleMania main event by themselves, but nope.
  • Foley was wrestling his first match since his official retirement in 2000 and, unfortunately, it showed. An off-the-apron clothesline to Flair early on proved to be the highlight of his night. He would redeem himself a month later with a classic hardcore match with Orton at Backlash, though.
  • Fortunately Rock and Ric Flair were in the mood to have some fun and made the whole deal worthwhile by mimicking each other throughout. Flair attempted to strut through a People's Elbow effort, only for Rock to add a Flair strut to his own in retaliation. As his movie career took off, Rock got used to WWE guys trying to mimic him, with countless failed jumps to Hollywood as a consequence. In an unrelated note, look out for a certain Batista in the upcoming release of Guardians of the Galaxy!
  • It's easy, but foolish, to forget how fun Ric Flair was during this period of his career. After breaking up a pin, he sprinted around the ring to grab a chair in a move so blatant he may as well have yelled, "Hey ref! I'm causing a distraction!"
  • Mick Foley got the hot tag and prepared to unleash Orton with Mr Socko, only to be hit with an RKO to end the match. I believe this was the first time Orton used the RKO as an 'I can hit you anytime and win' move, one of the many things that filled us with such promise for Orton back then. Oh how our expectations were premature...
  • They aired a clip of the bumper Hall of Fame ceremony from 2004 that pretty much just balanced the books in inducting all the outstanding guys from the 70's/80's that had to go sometime, like Heenan, 'Superstar' Billy Graham, Harley Race, Jesse Ventura, JYD, Tito Santana, Greg Valentine et al. In other words, if you were on the WrestleMania I undercard, you were in. Mene Gene then introduced them all on stage. I sure hope that the late JYD's daughter was well up on his career and didn't take the crowd barking at her the wrong way.

Playboy Evening Gown Match: SABLE & TORRIE WILSON over STACY KEIBLER & MISS JACKIE

  • It's so rare that one gets to pay homage to a good toilet break, but in memory of the great Playboy Evening Gown piss of '04, I chose to take that opportunity when presented.
  • This match came about after Sable and Torrie did a dual Playboy shoot, and the two sure have a lot in common: they were both blonde; both had limited in-ring abilities; they both did Playboy shoots during their peaks; and after her career, Torrie was rumoured to become a high-class escort to celebrities, while Sable went onto marry millionaire former WWE & UFC Champion Brock Lesnar. Take from that what you will.
  • For what it's worth, Torrie and Sable won the match, but Stacy remains relevant in public life to this day. So who really won here?
  • Backstage, Eddie Guerrero fired up Chris Benoit by saying that he's proud of him tonight, win or lose. Benoit went nuts in the way that was really cool at the time, but is a little unsettling now in hindsight.

Cruiserweight Open: WWE Cruiserweight Champion, CHAVO GUERRERO over REY MYSTERIO, NUNZIO, JAMIE NOBLE, TAJIRI, AKIO, FUNAKI, SHANNON MOORE, ULTIMO DRAGON, BILLY KIDMAN.

  • This match was filled with people who seemed like such a good idea at the time.
  • In truth, the match was a mess. The rules stipulated that two men start and it's basically winner stays on, but since WWE policy at the time dictated that cruiserweights weren't allowed more than 5 minutes, what resulted was a bunch of really quick falls that made just about everybody look terrible. Nunzio found himself eliminated against Jamie Noble in the world's quickest countout, for example.
  • They didn't even have all ten people compete, eliminating Akio after he was accidentally sprayed with the mist by tag-team partner Tajiri. Just tell me you're cutting him for time because Ultimo Dragon wasn't supposed to do that Rana, Michael Cole. Stop the lies already.
  • It came down to Chavo and Mysterio in the end, with one of WWE's most over participants being felled in a matter of seconds (three, precisely) after Chavo Sr held his son's hands for the assist during a rollup. WWE Network really needs a fast forward option.

GOLDBERG over BROCK LESNAR (Special Guest Referee: STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN)

  • Unfortunately for all participants, news broke of Lesnar's impending departure from the company to try his hand at NFL the weekend of WrestleMania 20. This was also Goldberg's last match in the company and, not being in the mood to be insulted by two men literally showing up for a paycheque, the MSG crowd opted instead to boo them both out of the building.
  • Re-watching this, I really think Randy Orton/Batista could've worked at WrestleMania 30 after all. All you needed was to put a Stone Cold Steve Austin-like figure who's popular with the crowd in as referee to occasionally smile at both men's mass public rejection.
  • Some philanthropy student out there really needs to use this match as a case study. You take these two men, remove any shred of respect anyone in the crowd had for them, and reduce them to nothing more than sheepish big lads pretending to fight but really just bumping into each other, falling over and making smug faces. It's like putting them in front of 20,000 of the most cynical "Pfft, wrestling is fake," fans and trying to sell them on it. And, in spite of this, I'm sure both wiped their tears with the buckets of cash they received to have everything they've worked for in their lives mocked.
  • You have to admire Goldberg's refusal to give a fuck, though. He literally spent more time chewing gum in the ring than bumping and selling.
  • At one stage, a Chris Benoit chant broke out. Back then, it was an indication that they wanted to see a dedicated, talented wrestler. These days people do it as a way of telling someone they basically want to murder their ass.
  • Mercilessly, after a LOT of people falling down after hitting their own clothesline; squaring up to Stone Cold holding three fingers up; and kicking out of finishers, Goldberg hit the Jackhammer and that was all she wrote for both these men (until Brock came back eight years later, at least). Brock left WWE the same way he would later leave UFC, by sticking his fingers up to the fans and organisation before getting his arse kicked (via a Stone Cold Stunner in this case).
  • Vince McMahon came out on stage to say thank you for the 20 years. He then pulled out his wallet and showed the crowd how their support had given him more money in his pocket right now than the 20,000 in attendance had in theirs combined.

WWE Tag-Team Champions, RIKISHI & SCOTTY 2 HOTTY over APA, BASHAM BROTHERS & THE WORLD'S GREATEST TAG-TEAM.

  • One thing I never understood about this card is: there were so many empty, meaningless title matches like this on the card yet they only chose to have two title switches on the night. Ten years later, extensive studies have shown that precisely zero people's earths were shattered by Rikishi and Scotty 2 Hotty's extended title reign.
  • Little did we know it back then, but this would be Ron Simmons and Bradshaw's final match as a tag-team on a pay-per view. And not one person would've guessed that Bradshaw's best years were still ahead of him, as he was soon repackaged under the JBL moniker. Did I just give this match more historical significance than it ever, ever had any right to?
  • Anywho, Rikishi hit the Stinkface, Bradshaw hit the Clothesline From Hell, Scotty did The Worm...shit was officially got in before Rikishi sat on Danny Basham and ended proceedings with a dance. I think that entire match was booked just to get the dancing clip in the end video with Michael Cole saying, "Wow look at all the fun people are having at Wrestle-Mania!"
  • A slightly less damaging, "What were they thinking moment?" than the show's closing moments came when Jesse 'The Body' Ventura came to the ring and stated his intention to run for the US Presidency. He did so by way of a brief ringside interview with Donald Trump, ironically. Did America miss a trick by putting the first black man in the White House instead of the first pro-wrestler-turned-announcer-turned-Predator star-turned-Minnesota Governer?

Hair-versus-Hair Match: Women's Champion, VICTORIA over MOLLY HOLLY

  • For someone whose wife has probably never won a beauty contest, Vince McMahon sure takes a lot of pleasure in ritually humiliating any female employees who don't have the traditional supermodel look. At WrestleMania 20 it became the turn of the perfectly attractive and talented Molly Holly, as she competed for the right to keep her hair and dignity against Victoria. It was a battle that ultimately proved fruitless.
  • Naturally enough, conversation at ringside quickly turned to Jerry Lawler questioning Jim Ross over whether or not he wore panties. My god...
  • The match itself was quicker than a hiccup and ended with a Victoria backslide for a three-count. Afterwards, Molly ran for the hills, only to be knocked out by being thrown into the barber's table and shaved while being strapped into the red chair. These days people pay good money to read EL James-written scenes similar to this.

WWE Champion, EDDIE GUERRERO over KURT ANGLE

  • Watching this match would make you sad about Kurt Angle not being in WWE anymore, if you weren't already depressed by watching him face Eddie Guerrero.
  • The seriousness of the entrances marking the culmination of an amazing angle (remember Kurt beating Eddie with his hands tied behind his back?) was slightly undercut by the fact that there were two women still shaving each other in the background.
  • You forget how helpful Tazz was on commentary. To digest the slow build at the start of big matches like this, Tazz kept viewers interested with brain-teasing double negatives such as, "Kurt Angle is not running into nothin' there." Sooo he...IS running into something?? And that something is....Eddie Guerrero!! Alright, I'm with you Tazz, good call!
  • For the record, Kurt never did get the opportunity to German suplex anyone off the apron as he threatened to do so often in WWE. He probably does it every night in TNA though, because who the hell cares anyway?
  • The problem with having an ankle lock as a finisher is that very few long matches make sense in terms of ring psychology. Kurt chose to wear down Eddie's mid-section for much of this match, which doesn't play into the fact that later he'll be looking to finish it by grabbing an ankle.
  • That's a minor gripe, though, this is a fantastic bout. Eddie was so explosive on offence and an absolute master at maximising crowd reactions at all times. Typically most hope spots are simple, like a babyface sunset flip that the heel kicks out of before getting back on top. Eddie counters a suplerplex attempt here with a series of kicks and a close Frog Splash attempt. You genuinely believe he's about to win with a major title match only a matter of minutes old, and the rest is more exciting for it as fans instantly click into 'This could end at any stage' mode.
  • The two exchange multiple German and vertical suplexes before working towards a thrilling finishing sequence. Angle, this time, counters a Frog Splash attempt with a top-rope Belly-to-Belly. As the straps come down, Eddie counters an Angle Slam with a DDT and Frog Splash for a close two. Angle plays possum, luring Eddie into the ankle lock. Eddie countered briefly and loosened his boot laces to 'ease the swelling'. Spotting this, Kurt goes for the kill with another ankle lock, only for Eddie to kick off his boot and roll Kurt up in  a small package to win.
  • It's hard to watch a great Eddie match like this and not feel a little aggrieved that we were denied watching so many more years of his genius at work.

THE UNDERTAKER over KANE

  • This match marked the return of Undertaker to his 'Deadman' gimmick after he was 'killed' by Kane six months previously at Survivor Series. Of all people, you'd think his brother would understand that the one enemy you absolutely do not want to kill is The fucking Undertaker!
  • "I buried you!" Kane yells in frustration as Taker stands across the ring from him. Yes, Kane, and how has that tactic worked out for you every single time you've tried it over the years? Seriously, remove it from the 'Undertaker Vanquishing Strategy Guide' immediately. Write it on a piece of paper, put it on a turnbuckle, lift both of your hands up, explode them and burn the plan forever. It. Does. Not. Work.
  • The return itself was handled perfectly: the druids, Paul Bearer, the fire, the smoke, the music. I can't believe WWE thought they'd fare better taking all of this away and making him dance to Limp Bizkit instead.
  • The less said about the match itself, the better. When it comes to brothers having this little chemistry, only Noel and Liam Gallagher can compete. Undertaker hit a Tombstone and won in relatively quick time. Much like the Gallagher brothers, these two work best when they spare us the drama and just play the hits.

Triple-Threat Match: CHRIS BENOIT over WWE Champion, TRIPLE H & SHAWN MICHAELS

  • Here's a drinking game to get you through the mixed emotions you'll feel while watching this match: take a shot every time the word, "MURDER!" goes through your head. By the end you'll be so tanked you'll forgive anything and can enjoy it like the first time all over again.
  • Look, I'm as appalled as any of you by Benoit's crimes, but if we're gonna get through this then we kinda have to deal with the elephant in the room head on.
  • Little did we realise that just a few years later, this man would commit a heinous crime that would send the NFL into a tailspin. For those who don't know, that's not a typo. Somehow Vince McMahon managed to shift the blame for Benoit's actions onto American Football and, after a little bit of discomfort, escape relatively scot-free. Say what you want about him, but Vinnie Mac would make an awesome evil mastermind if this were all a movie.
  • WWE tried to give Benoit an extra bit of juice with American audiences by announcing him as, "Now residing in Atlanta, Georgia" instead of Canada. Today WWE prefer to think of him as having never resided in their employment books.
  • I even wince every time JR and King refer to how 'calculating' he is.
  • Just took a shot.
  • Interestingly, while writing for another website in my youth, we took a writers' vote on the top 10 WrestleMania matches of all-time and this was named a surprise number one. We recently ran a similar poll on the WWE Parties Ireland page and, let's just say, this time it did not.
  • What makes it so impressive is that triple-threat matches are so difficult to work effectively. You either try and tell a story diluted by having to work around the convoluted rules, or you run an exciting spotfest that lacks emotional impact. This managed both: from clever spots like Triple H rushing into the ring to grab Shawn's hand and stop him tapping to the Crossface; to hard-hitting imagery like a bloody Michaels in the ring after double suplexing Benoit through the announce table, staring at Triple H as he stood on the other announce table and pointing to say, "You and me, let's finish this."
  • Drink up.
  • It was around this period that Michaels' and Triple H's work together re-defined WWE's preferred style of wrestling from the type of anything goes brawls around the arena that we became used to in the 90's, to a more traditional, boo the bad guy, cheer the good guy style. In doing so, they perhaps saved years of future wrestlers' lives as fans had grown accustomed to seeing people jump off ladders, stages and so on that to get a pop from the crowd wrestlers nearly ended up killing themse...
  • Yeah I realised it as I was writing, I'm drinking.
  • The end was breath-taking: Benoit locked Triple H in a Sharpshooter, only to get some Sweet Chin Music from HBK for a near fall. As Michaels looked to tune up the band again, he was dumped over the top-rope by Benoit, who then locked the Crossface on Triple H. Triple H tried to counter but his momentum only rolled him back into the middle of the ring and, after what seemed like an age, he tapped out as Benoit had finally won the big one. Picture now, if you will, a 16-year old me jumping around the room in 2004 trying to take in this moment while simultaneously hoping I don't wake my parents upstairs.
  • Benoit celebrated with the title, only to turn and spot his real-life best friend Eddie Guerrero standing in the ring, his WWE Championship over his shoulder. The two hugged it out as ticker tape filled the arena and, meanwhile, back in Blanchardstown this 16-year old kid decided he was becoming a pro-wrestler.
  • Just three years later, both were dead and for me, as for many, this incredible moment and the world of pro-wrestling as a whole became an altogether more complicated matter.
  • Not to take away from the gravity of the matter, but following the traditional end-of-show wrap-up package, the WWE Network plays a montage of the Harlem Boys Choir singing a medley of songs. I'm not messing here. I think they just threw it in there to lighten the mood after what we'd just witnessed. And hey, it worked: instead of questioning the integrity of an industry I've spent my entire life consuming, I now wanna go to Broadway!

Tasteless jokes aside, watching WrestleMania XX all these years later is sobering. As stated, this was the match that finally spurred me on to join a wrestling school. I loved every bit of this show at the time (well, except for the Cruiserweight Open, diva and tag matches).

Now? It feels more surreal watching it back, like reminding yourself it wasn't just a bad dream. On one hand, we know that the triple-threat is one of the most technically breathtaking matches in WrestleMania history. Guerrero/Angle and Jericho/Christian also stand up to repeat viewing. But you can't help but watch and feel a haunting 'What if things had turned out differently?' vibe over almost every match. Around each corner is a painful memory. What if Brock had never left? What if Rock's Hollywood career hadn't taken off and we'd have gotten a few more full-time years out of him in this kind of form? What if John Cena's push to the main event hadn't taken a cheesy detour along the way?

And that's all before we even begin to think about Guerrero and Benoit. Eerily, both were en route to getting a second bite of the cherry as singles champions before their tragic demises. How can such a feel-good moment become such a painful, sour one over time?

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Having just reviewed it last week, I also have to think back to WrestleMania X and note how that particular feel-good moment has also been tainted by time. Think about it: the happy endings of the two 10th anniversary editions of WrestleMania thus far have merely served as a prelude to two of the most controversial and difficult moments wrestling fans have had to endure over the years.

It makes me wonder what will become of Daniel Bryan if WrestleMania XXX ends with 70,000 people screaming 'YES!', as now looks likely. Of course it's ridiculous to say that this is foreshadowing a great tragedy in his future, as if being central to these moments is a sadistic jinx of sorts. But it does remind you that, as much as real-life drama acts as a backdrop and gives these feel-good moments a real kick, at the end of the day they are merely fabricated moments, fanboy porn enacted for our viewing pleasure. Real life happy endings are often much harder to come by.

Rick Nash is a former independent pro-wrestler and currently runs WWE Parties Ireland, who present the WWE WrestleMania 30 Party @ Woolshed Baa & Grill on Sunday 6th April. Limited tickets still available (click the link for full info). Check out an ad below for a preview of what's in store!

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dW8SSWKo0os

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